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Dax Murray

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The Truth About Fetal Pain, and the "Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act"


The truth is simply that fetus’s cannot feel pain. Several organizations dedicated to studying obstetrics and gynecology have spent many years studying the inner working of the uterus to figure out the secrets behind pregnancy and childbirth.

Several systems must be in place in order for a fetus to feel pain, while some of these systems are developed early in a pregnancy, they aren’t fully formed, and other systems haven’t even begun to form yet. Pain isn’t just a physical response, but also an emotional response. In order for anyone to feel pain, they need to have a developed nervous system, as well as having established connects between the nervous system and several sections of the brain. While the nervous system may begin to develop early in the first trimester, the maturation of the brain isn’t something that happens until well into the third trimester. (Keep in mind that most abortions happen within the first trimester, and those that happen in the third trimester are done for the health and life of the person who is pregnant, or for severe fetal abnormalities that would make the fetus unable to live outside of the uterus.)

Even in the third trimester, when all systems are finally in place around 35 – 37 weeks, the fetus will still not be able to feel any pain. The chemical environment of the uterus ensures that a fetus never experiences wakefulness, sentience, or consciousness. Instead, it is kept in an anesthetized state until shortly after birth. Most scientists believe that this is true to ensure that the fetus does not feel the pain of being born. Rather, there is a burst of chemicals released at birth that allow the now-born baby to take its experience pain, take its first breathe, digest food in a way that produces waste, and a host of other things that other born humans can do.

While some obstetricians my administer anesthesia to fetuses during pre-natal surgery, it is mostly done to make the person who is pregnant more comfortable, and assure her or him that the procedure will be painless. Further, most abortion procedures done after 14 weeks are done with the person who is pregnant being under anesthesia themselves, meaning, automatically, the fetus is also under anesthesia. And further still, procedures done in the third trimester involved the administration of digoxyn into the fetal heart on the first day of the procedure. It is not until 2 or 3 days later that the actual abortion procedure takes place, and by that point, fetal demise has occurred, meaning no matter the means of removing the fetus from the uterus, the fetus is not going to experience any pain.

Remember what I said about third trimester procedures being done to ensure the continued health and life of the person who is pregnant or in cases of severe fetal malformation? That means it is usually a wanted and desired pregnancy, and the person who is pregnant will be very, very concerned about ensuring the fetus, whom they consider a dearly loved member of the family, passes in a comfortable and pain free way.

In the United States, Roe v Wade _prohibits bans on abortion prior to viability, the earliest limit of which is 24 weeks past a persons last menstrual period. Some are trying to challenge this by saying a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks gestation, and attempting to ban abortions prior to this point, in hopes of baiting the Supreme Court and getting more limits on Roe, as they did in _Planned Parenthood v Casey. However, according the abstract from theRoyal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Working Paper on Fetal Awareness;

In reviewing the neuroanatomical and physiological evidence in the fetus, it was apparent that connections from the periphery to the cortex are not intact before 24 weeks of gestation and, as most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception, it can be concluded that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation.

They go on to conclude that in order to experience pain, you must be be conscious. This is why you don’t feel pain while you are under anesthesia.

After 24 weeks there is continuing development and elaboration of intracortical networks such that noxious stimuli in newborn preterm infants produce cortical responses. Such connections to the cortex are necessary for pain experience but not sufficient, as experience of external stimuli requires consciousness. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that the fetus never experiences a state of true wakefulness in utero and is kept, by the presence of its chemical environment, in a continuous sleep-like unconsciousness or sedation. (emphasis added)

They go on to specifically warn against anesthetizing fetuses during surgery specifically, stating it can cause complications;

Furthermore, because of possible risks and difficulties in administration, fetal analgesia should not be employed where the only consideration is concern about fetal awareness or pain. Similarly, there appeared to be no clear benefit in considering the need for fetal analgesia prior to termination of pregnancy, even after 24 weeks, in cases of fetal abnormality.

All of this makes a compelling case against the passage of House Resolution #1797, or the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, as fetuses cannot feel pain.